There could hardly be a more complete encapsulation of the brutality and savagery of capitalism in the United States than the recent photos of mostly white Border Patrol agents, armed and mounted on their horses, whipping thousands of defenseless black Haitian migrants who don’t have a penny to their name at the Southern Border. They were scenes reminiscent of slavery because of the setting, the race of those involved, and the power-dynamic between the hired thugs of the ruling class, the Border Patrol, and the desperate and destitute wretched of the Earth, the migrants.
There was a historical continuity in the photos, with slavery as well as with American imperialism. The continuity of slavery comes in the form of the Border Patrol. Although the Border Patrol itself was created in 1924, early on they worked to recruit members from some of the most vile and reactionary organizations that existed at the time.(1) The KKK provided a steady stream of members into the early Border Patrol up to the present day. The Border Patrol recruited people from one racist brotherhood in order to bring them into another, in service of the US capitalist class. That trend carries on into the present day, as an internal investigation made in 2019 by the US Customs and Border Protection found that “62 Border Patrol agents, including the agency’s chief, participated in a secret Facebook group that included racist, nativist, and misogynistic material, including threats to members of Congress”.(2)
Historical continuity in the photos, and the events overall, is also visible in relation to American imperialism and its relationship to Haiti, which has always been one of dominance by the former over the latter. Ever since the bourgeois-democratic slave revolution triumphed in Haiti at the end of the 18th century, the United States has both held enmity against the small Caribbean nation (this because of the fact that Haiti represented a vision of freedom for the millions of slaves within the Southern United States for the majority of the 19th century) and has seen it as another victim in the global imperialist chessboard for it to sink its talons into. US financial institutions established a wide degree of control over Haitian economic and political affairs during the 19th and early 20th century, with a great deal of the politicians ‘in charge’ being hand-picked by Washington. Yet this ‘soft-power’ imperialism presaged the brutal ‘hard-power’ imperialism of the United States in Haiti that began in 1915 with a 19-year occupation that lasted until 1934, and during which time the US treated the island as a slave-labor colony and enacted a ruthless campaign of terror.
Throughout the rest of the 20th century the US supported this or that ruling-class dictatorship in the country, with the most egregious example being the Duvalier regime from 1957-86 which was unparalleled in its corruption, the violence it inflicted on the Haitian working class, and the extent to which it worked to control the everyday lives of Haitian workers. While the dictatorship was toppled and the ‘normal’ sort of bourgeois democracy was introduced, this itself was short-lived as the nation’s first ‘democratically’ elected president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, was overthrown in a CIA-funded coup. The chaos and resistance to the coup that ensued afterwards forced the hand of the US and Aristide was returned back in 1994, yet at this point he was entirely beholden to his masters in Washington who held the strings on his position. In 2004 he was again overthrown in a coup which the US, along with the UN (really an international body of the most powerful ruling classes to maintain their grip on the world) used as a pretext to intervene and establish another bloody occupation, in which the occupation forces brutalized Haitian workers and committed numerous sexual violations against Haitian women, the vast majority of which of course belong to that country’s destitute working class. The US and UN occupation forces then brought in ‘neo-Duvalierist’ politicians such as Michel Martelly and, most recently, Jovenel Moïse, to rule over the country in the interests of the comprador bourgeois class and the US capitalist class.
This then brings us to the present day, where the situation in Haiti is one of turmoil and economic devastation. The country, still reeling from the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake, had to deal with a new one this year which killed thousands. In addition in July the president Moïse was assassinated which adds a whole new element of political chaos to the country, as the various factions of the ruling class, both domestic and international, use the opportunity to shore up their interests at the expense of Haitian workers. All of this comes on top of the global and structural crisis of capitalism that has been going on since the early 1970s(3), and which has exacted an extremely harsh toll on the Haitian working class, who themselves have risen and taken to the streets in large numbers since the summer of 2018, demanding better living conditions. We applaud these struggles and urge Haitian workers to go further, organizing themselves along class lines and taking strike action, crippling key industries that the global capitalist system relies on to keep itself alive. The capitalist world economy is built off of the backs of the world’s workers and especially those that it hyper-exploits in the peripheries of capitalism, in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. We also of course urge for Haitian workers to help us and themselves towards forming the nuclei of the future revolutionary party of the working class in their country by making links with like-minded internationalist militants.
Yet the situation of collapse and desperation in Haiti is what has caused tens of thousands of them to flee the country as refugees of global capitalism, in search of the possibility of escaping the hellish realms of exploitation that this system creates in the peripheries. The Haitian migrants usually make their way through Latin American countries, through Central America and through Mexico before arriving at the US border in hopes of making it into this country or Canada.
The capitalist class uses repressive state organs like the Border Patrol and ICE for many purposes. First of all, they are used to keep migrant workers out of the country, to preserve the size of the surplus labor pool at the level that they deem adequate. Second, they are used to scare the undocumented migrants within the country into accepting low wages, long working hours, and dangerous conditions, as organizing would expose them to be snatched away by la migra. Third, they are another instrument that the capitalist class uses in maintaining racial divisions within the working class, pitting white workers against the black and brown workers who more often than not experience higher levels of exploitation, poverty, and oppression.
Joe Biden campaigned in opposition to his predecessor, Donald Trump, by highlighting the awful and inhumane conditions in which migrants from Latin America were kept in at the Southern Border. The phrase ‘kids in cages’ became a common epithet against the Trump administration by many liberals and leftists as a way to highlight the cruelty of the administration which separated migrant children from their parents and kept them in concentration camps in which they slept on aluminum foil beds and weren’t given enough to eat, resulting in the deaths of several children. Yet the Biden administration, since taking office in January, has so far done nothing to change the policies or practices put in place and carried out by Trump. The only changes that Biden has done are symbolic ones like stopping the construction of the border wall, but even this isn’t completely true as Biden has signalled that the wall’s construction will continue in some places.(4) In fact Biden has actually ramped up deportations since taking office, and has made continued use of the Title 42 provision (and is currently fighting hard to keep it in place) that the Trump administration used since the beginning of the Covid pandemic to expel asylum applicants at the border before they even have a chance to apply.(5)
Right now at the Southern Border, Biden and his administration are once again proving that capitalist politicians are professional liars who should never be trusted. After half-heartedly pretending to be the friend of the undocumented migrant, Biden is now working around the clock to send around a thousand Haitian migrants back to their country per day using plane lifts, of course enforced with all of the natural brutality of the Border Patrol and US military.(6) Even more cruelly, the Biden administration is trying to have many of these migrants transported to a “migrant detention facility” in Guantanamo Bay, the torture camp that the US runs on Cuba.(7) It is a folly to try to demand or expect of the capitalist class to be in the least bit humane or refrain from their barbarism, but it surely says something about this system that Biden would rather appeal to the most reactionary sectors of the American capitalist class, those that froth at the mouth at seeing the poor and defenseless black and brown masses of the working class brutalized at the hands of the state, than allow them in, where they would still be exploited but perhaps not brutalized in such a callous manner as seen here.
The Haitian migrants at the border are our class brothers and sisters. They represent the most downtrodden and exploited section of our global class, displaced by capitalism’s proxy conflicts, economic devastation, and even climate change. They deserve all of our solidarity and material support.
The communist movement, especially in the United States, was historically built up by the migrant community, coming from places in Eastern Europe as well as large numbers from China and East Asia, at the heyday of the movement in the 1910s and 1920s. This is because migrant workers in capitalism epitomize the proletarian, who has nothing to lose but their chains. They do not own property and survive solely through the sale of their labor-power. They are not linked to any one geographic location but instead go where they may sell that labor-power to the bosses for wages to survive. The main difference between the migrant workers of 100 years ago and today is that whereas many of those migrant workers were originally peasants in their home countries and had to become acclimated to capitalist industrial life, the migrant workers of today have spend their whole lives as wage-laborers and are used to the life of the proletarian.
There is no place for any sort of chauvinism within our movement. The migrant workers from Haiti, as well as places like Honduras, El Salvador, and elsewhere, are not ‘driving wages down’ but are really just facing the full brunt of capitalist exploitation. It is the job of militants in the communist movement to support these migrant workers in their struggles and call for their extension and advancement towards revolutionary forms of organization. It is also the job of communist militants to be active in the workplace alongside these migrant workers, and to reach out to them to involve them in the project to build working class political independence and the future revolutionary party of the proletariat.
So to the Haitian migrants at the border, we say: solidarity and welcome to the struggle! Our struggle is one and we look forward to working and fighting alongside you in the class struggle that will birth a world free of exploitation, and where people aren’t forced to flee thousands of miles from their native homes to escape near-certain death.
Internationalist Workers' Group
Photo from: commons.wikimedia.org